The Year Ahead: Cannabis Legalization in 2018

Legal marijuana sales are booming with no end in sight, with the very possible exception of a renewed federal crackdown.
The Year Ahead: Cannabis Legalization in 2018
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A report came out in December about marijuana sales closing in on the $10 billion mark in North America this year. Notably, it didn’t set off a huge round of discussion in the media.

For the record, that $9.7 billion in 2017 legal marijuana sales is a 33 percent jump over 2016 but it’s kind of like that Pentagon UFO video. People just seemed to shrug and move on with holiday shopping.

The cannabis numbers, based on a report from Arcview Market Research, got the same type of greeting. No one is surprised the industry is booming, and everyone expects even more staggering numbers when California and Massachusetts start sales in 2018.

Related: Entrepreneurs See Opportunity Addressing Consumer Demand for Pesticide-Free Cannabis

California sales begin

California begins legal recreational marijuana sales on Jan. 1. The state just recently granted licenses to dispensaries, so it might be a bit hard to find initially. Some cities, such as San Francisco where sales won’t begin until Jan. 6, will lag in allowing legal sales. But eventually, the state is expected to become one of the biggest – perhaps the biggest – recreational marijuana market in the world. Some estimate that market at $5 billion.

And Massachusetts, too

Lost in all the justifiable talk about California is the fact that Massachusetts is set to begin recreational marijuana sales in April 2018. Massachusetts already has jumped ahead on the idea of creating cannabis cafes that will allow residents to buy and use marijuana products outside of their homes. The state also has the distinction of creating the first legal adult-use market in the U.S. east of the Mississippi River.

Chicago will send message

Voters in Chicago and Cook County, Ill., will get a chance to make their voice heard on legalization of marijuana in an advisory referendum to be held March 20. Advisory referendum is another way of saying “it doesn’t count,” at least not in terms of changing current law. But marijuana supporters hope that if Cook County voters say they approve of recreational marijuana, it will send a message to Illinois lawmakers to pass a proposed bill creating a legal adult-use cannabis market in Illinois. Of course, it could also go the other way.

Related: Chicago Voters Will Soon Tell Illinois Lawmakers If They Favor Legalizing Adult-Use Cannabis

Jeff Sessions may not give up

Many, many words were spoken and typed in 2017 about U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' opposition to legal marijuana. The crackdown on states that allow marijuana sales hasn't happened but that doesn’t mean it won’t. The ongoing threat of a federal crackdown has not dampened growth in the marijuana industry, however. For investors and business leaders, that’s the bottom line -- so far.

Canada legalizes nationwide - probably

The decision to make adult-use marijuana legal nationwide in Canada was one of the big stories in 2017. But putting that system in place by the July 2018 deadline is a challenge. Some Canadian provinces have asked for more time to set up regulated systems, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently said “the date will not be July 1, I assure you of that.” He did, however, say he expected the system to be set up “next summer.” Meanwhile, conservative politicians have done all they can to put off the final vote on the issue for as long as possible.

From Los Angeles and Chicago to Boston and Toronto, millions will have their lives affected by the legal marijuana movement. How all of it turns out in 2018 is just a matter of waiting and seeing.

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